Design of Baha'i Houses of Worship

May 2011
I'm wondering if anyone knows of anywhere in the Writings where it describes the design of the Houses of Worship.
Does it say in any text that the designs should try to be distinctive and unique?

One might jump to such a conclusion, seeing as, despite the fact that they all have nine sides, they all look quite different from each other as well, and have reasonably striking designs.

-Guess I could have done my own research, but I'm hoping for a quicker answer.
Mar 2010
Rockville, MD, USA
I can't provide you a citation, but it's my understanding that Baha'u'llah said they should all have nine sides and a dome.

Regards, :)

Aug 2010
New Zealand mainly
there's some material in
Exploring the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar Part 4: The Mashriqu'l-Adhkar as a building
Exploring the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar

and in a compilation on arts and architecture
Arts and Architecture

There's a wide latitude in the design. A dome is not required, nor are nine doors, but:

The beloved Guardian has instructed me to write you in connection with your recent letter to him concerning the Temple to be built in Germany.

The beloved Master has not given very many details concerning the House of Worship. He has written in tablets, however, that the building must be round, and be 9-sided. The Guardian feels that at this time all Bahá'í temples should have a dome. In other words, the instructions of the Master to have a round, 9-sided building must be very carefully carried out; but in addition the Guardian feels the Temples built now should likewise have a dome.
(Shoghi Effendi, The Light of Divine Guidance v I, p. 247)

On the one hand, there are some passages in the Bahai scriptures referring to buildings which are "as perfect as is possible in the world of being,"[3] or "magnificent"[4] and requiring that both the building and, if possible, the grounds should be circular or nine-sided.[5] There are also passages which restrict the possible uses of a Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, such as in Question 94 of the Kitab-i-Aqdas where Bahá'u'lláh says:

Whatever hath been constructed for the worship of the one true God, such as mosques, chapels and temples, must not be used for any purpose other than the commemoration of His Name. This is an ordinance of God, and he who violateth it is verily of those who have transgressed.

This means that other activities should not take place in the main hall of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, which is dedicated to worship,[6] and it may well be an endorsement of the Shi`ih teaching that a property once dedicated as a mosque can never be used for another purpose.[7]

On the other hand, the Aqdas itself defines Mashriqu'l-Adhkar buildings in broader terms as "each and every building which hath been erected in cities and villages for the celebration of My praise."[8] `Abdu'l- Bahá also uses the name Mashriqu'l-Adhkar to refer to buildings which are not especially erected 'for the celebration of My praise' but have been 'set aside' for worship. For instance:

This is a matter of the utmost significance. If the erection of the House of Worship in a public place would arouse the hostility of evil-doers, then the meeting must, in every locality, be held in some hidden place. Even in every hamlet, a place must be set aside as the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, and even though it be underground.[9]

He refers to houses being designated as Mashriqu'l-Adhkars, yet underground spaces and houses would not normally conform to the requirement of being circular or nine-sided. And despite the rule of the Aqdas that a Mashriqu'l-Adhkar should not be used for other purposes, `Abdu'l-Bahá writes:

Inform the maid-servant of God, who prepared her home as a [temporary] Mashrak-el-Azcar, that this service was accepted in the Kingdom of ABHA.[10]

It seems reasonable therefore to conclude that the rules of design and use which apply to a perfected Mashriqu'l-Adhkar do not necessarily apply to lesser forms. The inner reality of the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar strives not only to be manifest in every level of reality, but also to attain "its highest prescribed degree of perfection."[11] This is a gradual process of growth: we need not seek to reach perfection in one step:

God willing, in all the states of America in the future there will be erected Temples with infinite architectural beauty, art, with pleasing proportion and handsome and attractive appearances ... But for the present, be ye satisfied with a rented place.[12]

3. Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 31. This may be a reflection of the Bayan (Persian Bayan, VI 3, as summarized in Selections from the Writings of the E.G. Browne, M. Momen (ed.), page 376).
4. Memorials of the Faithful, page 20.
5. Promulgation of Universal Peace, pages 71-72, and Light of Divine Guidance Vol.1, pages 247-248. Other elements such as having nine doors or a dome are not requirements (Light of Divine Guidance Vol. 1, page 229).
6. See Bahá'í Administration, page 77.
7. In a Tablet to Aqa Ni`matu'llah Naraqi quoted by Ishraq Khavari's in Ganjinih-i-Hudud va Akham, `Abdu'l-Bahá has said that the Universal House of Justice will have to rule on this question.
8. paragraph 115.
9. Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, page 95.
10. Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas, page 149.
11. Selections from the Writings of the Bab, page 61.
12. Tablets of `Abdu'l-Bahá Abbas, page 437.
Jun 2006
A friend of mine had a design with a Nautilus shell for a Temple for the Phillipines.. and shared it with the House of Justice.. They seemed to like the design and later sent him a letter stating that for now they had other priorities but encouraged him to keep working on it! :)
Sep 2010
design by anyone

A friend of mine had a design with a Nautilus shell for a Temple for the Phillipines.. and shared it with the House of Justice.. They seemed to like the design and later sent him a letter stating that for now they had other priorities but encouraged him to keep working on it! :)
Anyone can submit designs for buildings, but it needs a fully educated architect and engineering considerations to really present a workable design. Though sincere and I have been guilty of a similar request/submission many years ago it is naive to do so in most cases. I was.
May 2011
Thank you all, and thank you Sen for the links you provided. I will have a closer read of them soon. : )
Yes, I was specifically asking about why the designs are often reasonably unique and distinctive, and I think that the links will at least provide some answer. Thanks.